Saturday, 8 October 2016

The Forgotten Realms Campaign: The Groundwork, Part One

With my home group's Curse of Strahd campaign wrapping up, I'm planning ahead for our next big campaign, armed with a small collection of Forgotten Realms sourcebooks and supplements, as well as the latest adventure for D&D 5th Edition, Storm King's Thunder.

Storm King's Thunder cover by Tyler Jacobson. Wizards of the Coast, Dungeons & Dragons, and their logos are trademarks of Wizards of the Coast LLC in the United States and other countries. © 2016 Wizards. All Rights Reserved.

For most of my group, this is our first chance to really go into depth with the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, aside from a brief foray with the starter set adventure Lost Mines of Phandelver. Some of us have played the Forgotten Realms computer RPGs, such as Neverwinter Nights or Baldur's Gate, giving us something of a foundation, but we're essentially working with a blank canvas. This strikes me as a perfect opportunity to give the group a new experience, playing in a fantastic setting with a staggering amount of detail and colour, as well getting to try out the latest D&D adventure, which after reading I can surmise to be incredibly fun.

That said, running Storm King's Thunder as is seems like a potentially wasted opportunity to indulge in showing off more of the iconic campaign setting, so I've decided to use the adventure as a skeleton to build upon, fleshing out the detail of the campaign with previously published material. I've a few aims with this plan.
  • Show off the Forgotten Realms in greater detail, selling it as a potential setting to use in future campaigns, or to extend the campaign after the Storm King's Thunder adventure.
  • Give my players an opportunity to explore roleplaying outside of the linear adventure format, whilst not sacrificing the level of detail within the adventure.
  • Develop a greater level of non-combat encounters around the published adventure.
  • Utilise materials from the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide and other published adventures.

So, where to start?

[This section contains (incredibly) mild spoilers for the opening segment of Storm King's Thunder, you have been warned. This especially means you, home group.]

The High Road, running the length of the Sword Coast, seems the best place to start laying some foundations for the campaign. I'm not one hundred percent sure how much I want to deviate from plan with the first adventure, A Great Upheaval, but assuming I stay fairly to plan on that part, there's a few goals I need to accomplish to polish up that section.
  • Introduction. Why are the PCs on the High Road to begin with? Why are they headed to Nightstone, the small town where the action start happening? The published adventure gives a few adventure hooks to get the story rolling, but in order to make these believable, I want to tailor them a little better to the group at the table. This might be something I have to revisit once I've a stronger idea of the player characters, but I'm fairly sure I'll be adding in a few scenes to address these adventure hooks.
  • Tone & Context. How do I set the scene for Nightstone, how do I foreshadow what the player characters might find there, or create the atmosphere necessary to contrast with that? What I need to find or create here are some details for the High Road and the area around Ardeep Forest, something for the party to sink their teeth into, so they can place themselves into the adventure.
  • Colour. How do I make these introductory scenes interesting, perhaps even challenging? I don't want to throw them straight into conflict, but the problem I often find with read-aloud paragraphs is that the players don't really engage with them. If there's nothing to interact with, or to engage their attention, then the whole plan falls flat. 
  • Ongoing motivation. What is keeping the PCs on their path, beyond the expectations of the published adventure? Are they in it for the loot, for the thrills or serving a greater purpose? This is another question that can be addressed after the adventuring party is a little more clear, once I've a better idea of what the party is about, I can start throwing hooks here and there to keep the adventure moving.
Looking at these goals, I like the idea of joining the party at Daggerford, about forty miles southeast of Nightstone, it's a reasonable-sized town that I can use to establish a tone for the Sword Coast and the High Road in particular, without getting bogged down by having too much going on and thereby distracting the party from the need to go north to their next destination. I can create a scene or two in the town to create a need for the party to head to Nightstone, weighted with the right motivation to get them moving (especially if they're already headed up the High Road, then they only face a small detour), perhaps with a memorable recurring character — an employer, a sometime antagonist a contact, someone in need of help — to get them on their way. Using non-conflict or minor-conflict scenes, we can establish something about the characters within the party, and then have them set off on their way. I could even create some minor challenges along the way to let them show off and demonstrate their particular skillsets.

With this in mind, I plan to assemble some information about Daggerford, create some interesting non-combat encounters and start working with my players to establish some facts about the player characters.

Until next time.

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